The old proverb that says, “it is better to give than receive” is full of ancient wisdom. Reaching out to help others has many benefits for children.
- It helps develop empathy and kindness
- Teaches the importance of community and what it means to be a good citizen
- Is a wonderful antidote to our consumer society that encourages discontent and pushes us to buy more and more stuff
- It feels good to be able to help others
In fact according to a recent study by psychologists at the University of British Columbia, giving to others makes young children happy-even happier than when they are on the receiving end.
And of course it is a great way for families to come together. Working with your children to help others provides the opportunity to make memories and build connections. There are so many things you can do together. Here are a few suggestions.
Younger children love to help and are sensitive to the needs of others. It is probably best to keep outreach localized by focusing on needs of the immediate community. You could
- Shop together for canned and other packaged food and take it to a local food pantry.
- Look for gently used clothing, toys, and books around your house and take the items to an organization that helps families. It is wise to call the organization first and see what they need.
- Plant flowers into small pots to give to those who need encouragement.
- Ask an elderly neighbor if they need help walking a dog, doing yard work, or shoveling the snow — any tasks that your children will be able to do easily with you.
Older children are ready for greater participation. Their awareness of a larger world is increasing and they are conscious of such things as hunger, war, poverty, pollution, and homelessness. Often they want to help and do something to make a difference, but sometimes they may wonder if they are old enough, or skilled enough, to do anything really meaningful. Parents can help by listening to their concerns, helping them formulate a plan, and accomplish a goal. Children are encouraged by success in achievable goals, so keep projects small and fairly simple. Together you could
- Raise $25 to give to an organization that provides micro financing such as Kiva. Families can choose a project, decide how to raise the money, watch as the loan is repaid, and then relend it once again.
- Deliver small baskets of treats to people that work for the community, such as nurses, police, fire-fighters, or teachers.
- Assemble small bags of essential supplies for women’s shelters (contact them first and ask what they need).
- Make collection jars to collect loose change for causes that the children wish to support. Have a rolling party to count and roll the coins.
Teens are ready for projects that require more time and effort. They have the skills and maturity to engage in a number of different causes with you. Together you might
- Write letters in support of those who have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Amnesty International provides information and addresses
- Write letters to government officials to advocate for justice and ecological issues.
- Hold fundraisers for causes that capture their imagination.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank.
Whatever you decide to do together try to let your children take the lead. You may have to make a few suggestions to get the ball rolling, but once they have caught the vision listen to their suggestions, then help them figure out what to do and how to do it. Also please keep in mind these wise words from an aboriginal activist group in Australia.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Aboriginal activist group, Queensland, 1970’s.
We should try to avoid the notion that we are somehow superior and are riding into rescue those who are less fortunate than ourselves. This attitude has caused many problems in the past. Instead encourage your family to reach out to others with compassion and the expectation that they will learn a lot from those they are helping.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions. I would love to hear from you. How has your family reached out to help others? Do you volunteer with your children? What activities would you add to the list?
“Family connectivity is a perfect antidote to how fast our society is running. Coming together in philanthropy can be the silver bullet to a society moving in different directions very fast. You stay connected and do work together that keeps you attached to your community or something topical.The work keeps you together with the people that matter to you.” From The Power to Produce Wonders